Local news

Maybe it’s just me but I always like to read local newspapers as I travel. While often really removed from day to day life the local rag gives a sense of issues and debates that are going on. I thought therefore it may be interesting to write a wee blog on just that subject.

We’re currently in Maun, Botswana. (well, we were when I wrote this). Overall Botwana has a small population compared to many other African countries (1.8M people) and it’s correspnding GDP is also much higher apparently. It’s certainly more expensive! To date we have seen very few people as we cycle through. Travelling on long, staright, flat roads with little changing scenery. I’m afraid to say that so far for me it has been boring Botswana. I find this terrain tedious, especially with some of the headwinds we have encountred.

Last week we were predominantly travelling on the elephant highway through national parks so given this and the fact that the population size is low it’s of no surprise that the wildlife here are big news. Other than a story about more robberies hitting Maun these were the two other key headlines in The Ngami Times on 12th April.

“Farmers shoot problem lioness”
“Poachers kill rhino near Maun”

The key selling point of Africa really is the wildlife – it’s certainly not food or accomodation (maybe more on that in another blog!). While we, as tourists, go on expensive safari trips and love to see all the wild animals in their natural habit, for the inhabitants there is perhaps a different story.

Here in Botwana, hunting, in designated areas (national parks and private game reserves) is a legal activity. Apparently it will be banned other than on private reserves from 2014. The first story regarding the lioness tells of a farmers plight where their livestock was being devastated and a local wildlife officer belived it was also a threat to communities and human life. For these reasons the lioness was shot and its death then reported, as required by law, to the relevant authorities. I get this.

The poacher story (more of which I will write on shortly) also includes a note that “relations between humans and elephants have taken a nose dive”. This comes apparently after incidents in Kazungula and Kasane in the past week. These are both areas we cycled through though I would add that we had an elephant expert, Darryl (and his 40/50 calibre gun) , with us for this time. Apparently Botswana is over populated with elephants and we certainly saw some while out on our bikes. Darryl had been involved with needing to shoot an elephant last week that was attacking humans. I get this and would certainly be happy to have a rescue at hand were it needed.

However, the trophy hunting of elephants (a later story reminds readers of the King of Spain on a hunt last year and the consequent outrage it caused back home)- I don’t get at all. It may be the case that the local village then benefits for food (lots of boiling or drying apparently) and the tusks go to the Government (sold at auction) but why be proud of this on returning home? Run a marathon – cycle across Africa. These are my preferred proud moments.

However, it is the poaching story that I find most difficult. Killing for pure cash. In this case a rhino – endangered!. Government is working hard to catch all poachers and in this story had caught some of the perpetrators. Sadly the fifth man, said to be in possession of the missing horn, was also yet to be found. Maybe rhino horn or shooting an elephant does make you more virile. I guess perception can sometimes be more powerful than the truth. For me, I’d fall for the wildlife officer everytime!

In closure, another thing I enjoy about travel can be a disconnect from global news and that from my own country. However, when shocking events hit – news travels too. The local newspaper reports on efforts and conservation work and thank goodness it doesn’t have to report bombing and shooting at sporting events. That – i definately don’t get at all.

(written as Boston marathon reports bombing…updated a week later when finally reached wi-fi)

Nearly there yet?

So, from a time perspective we are 75% done. Following two rest days at Vic Falls we have just one month of our four month trip from Cairo to Capetown left to go. Just one month! Gee.

When a new rider, Rob, joined us in Arusha he noted that we were just getting to the point where many full time riders would start to find the trip hard going. I still felt good and took the comment in a fairly “yeah, yeah” kind of way.

So, last week I felt physically exhausted and this week – I’m just finding the group thing kind of tough. In some ways the physical exhaustion was pretty easy to deal with. Quite simply- I rode the truck on a few days – riding either only to or from lunch. We had some long days last week so when a half day is still 90km then it’s still a fair old ride.

The group stuff is of course much harder. I should start by saying we actually have a fantatsic group on our trip. Of course there are some people you spend more time with than others and there will inevitably be others that you find frustrating but overall (in fact more than overall) our group mixes well, is not too full of cliques and we all pretty much keep an eye out for each other. However, that’s not to say I’m now not finding being surrounded by 70 plus folk pretty full on.

While used to being surrounded by many friends I also live on my own. For our last cycle tour it was pretty much John and me. There are few situations in life when we live with so many people. At risk of sounding a little moany, I’m struggling with food queues and tight camping spots though I’m aware that some of this is due to being a slower rider, eater and not wanting to be on the edge of camp given the odd steals from tent vesibules on some of our sites.

I sat on my own to eat the other night. Exhausted from a 182km ride i arrived at camp with time for just a 15 minute beer and an opportunity to start setting up my tent before the dinner line started. My tent fly was still wet from the night before, sun was fading as I tried to dry it out before putting over the inner and  I ended up with a wet wipe shower behind a tree before I quickly grabbed my plate. While the dinner queue served as good distraction while I got changed I find it particularly anoying to see a seconds queue already there when I am still waiting for an initial portion. Does all of TDA need to be  a race or give a sense of the quickest wins?

While in my first tour (USA, Japan, Nepal and India) I felt my bikemind slogan “The world at 15mph” has been pitched much too ambitiously, for TDA/Africa it may need to be increased!

John and I said all along we were aiming for EFH (every flipping hotel) and we have certainly tried to stick to this when possible. While the comfy bed and private bathroom were initially the main advantages as the tour progresses it is the personal space a locked room enables you that has become the best part of a hotel stay. I sit writing this in a peaceful hotel garden. Two wooden chairs, overlooking a pond, the sound of running water and a kettle boiling ready for a quiet cup of tea. Bliss.

We cross the border to Botswana tomorrow and at present I feel like I’m on countdown. We’re so close yet still…. so far away.

Still glad I’m here. Still appreciating how fortunate I am. Still loving the riding. Still looking forward to the end.